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Why Choose Cremation?

Three aspects of cremation explained to help you decide if it's right for you

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Updated March 09, 2013

Columbarium doors

Photos on the niche doors of this cremation columbarium in Macau, China, show how the deceased looked in life.

Photo © Chris Raymond

Today, roughly four of every 10 deaths in America involve cremation, which represents a significant increase in the past few decades. There are many reasons contributing to why a growing number of people choose cremation versus the more traditional casketed ground burial, including greater religious acceptance, less adherence to family traditions, and an increasingly mobile society.

This article explores three significant aspects of cremation to help you decide if this form of final body disposition is right for you or someone you love.

Lower Cost
Cremation is generally less expensive than a "traditional funeral" -- i.e., the casketed interment below ground of a deceased human following a visitation/wake and/or a religious or secular ceremony. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national average cost of a funeral is $6,560, which includes a metal casket but not the cemetery plot, grave marker (headstone), or miscellaneous other costs, such as for flowers or obituaries. According to the Cremation Association of North America, the national average cost of cremation is $1,650, which includes "limited memorialization services and a basic urn."

When considering the costs, it is important to understand that cremation is neither an alternative to nor a rejection of a traditional funeral. Instead, cremation is merely one form of bodily disposition from which you can choose. In other words, if you select cremation for yourself or someone you love, you can still hold a wake/visitation and/or a religious or secular ceremony beforehand if you wish. This means that the amount of money you spend can be greater or less than the above averages depending upon the goods and services you select. For example, a "direct cremation" -- in which a body is cremated without any type of funeral service or loved ones present -- generally costs less than $1,000. Conversely, it is possible to spend four or five times that amount just to purchase a unique urn handcrafted by an artist.

Flexible Service Options
Because the human body begins a process immediately after death that eventually results in its decomposition unless it is professionally embalmed (which temporarily slows decay), a funeral or memorial service with the body present, as well as burial, occur relatively soon after death. Since the immediate family usually needs to arrange the funeral and committal services, and to provide out-of-town loved ones and friends time to travel, services generally occur within four to 10 days after the death. (Religious tradition, the family's wishes, and many other factors can impact the timing, however.)

On the other hand, after a body is cremated, there is no urgency to do anything permanent with the cremated remains ("ashes"). It is common for the immediate family, for example, to hold a private viewing of the deceased and/or to witness the start of the cremation process itself and then conduct a larger memorial or scattering service weeks, months or even years later. This enables loved ones to focus on the immediacy of their grief without dealing with the myriad details needed to rapidly create a funeral and committal service.

Better for the Environment
Determining how "green" something is these days rests in the eye of the beholder. After all, a household that merely recycles aluminum cans might still consider itself green versus another household that uses solar power. While not considered as eco-friendly as green burial or natural burial, or even alkaline hydrolysis, cremation has long been considered better for the environment since a traditional funeral usually involves the use of a formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, as well as the obvious need for land use when burying a casket or coffin.

According to the Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve in Newfield, New York, traditional ground interment in a United States cemetery results in the burial of 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid every year. Unless you choose to hold a funeral or memorial service before cremating the deceased, you might not need the services of a professional embalmer. (And even if you do, refrigeration is a viable alternative.)

And many options concerning the cremated remains do not require any land use at all, such as keeping them in an urn in your home or scattering them in a meaningful location. Even if you decide to bury the urn or place it in a columbarium, the amount of land required is still less than that needed to bury a casket or coffin.

Sources:
"Annual Statistics Report: 2010." Cremation Association of North America.

"2010 NFDA General Price List Survey." National Funeral Directors Association.

"FAQs." www.naturalburial.org. Retrieved March 9, 2013. http://naturalburial.org/greensprings-faq

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